Nick Nightmare Investigates by Adrian Cole, Alchemy Press/Airgedlámh Publications, h/b, £25.00, Website
Reviewed by Dave Brzeski
After a nice, informative introduction from the author, the first story is the all-new ‘Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself’. As the title suggests, there’s a strong musical element in this tale. A highly respected blues man in the New York club scene has become involved with a strange religious cult, and it’s having a very weird effect on the music he plays. This appears to be Nick Nightmare’s introduction to the occult—and his first encounter with the worshippers of Dagon, who were soon to become a regular thorn in his side.
Next up is the first of the previously published stories: ‘You Don’t Want to Know’. It’s been slightly re-edited, to make it fit the format of the collection better, in that it’s now one of Nick Nightmare’s written files, as opposed to a tape transcription, as in the original appearance. This one is exclusive to this hardcover limited edition, and will not be included in the forthcoming paperback and ebook editions. Nick Nightmare finds himself caught between his employers and the FBI in pursuit of a fugitive who is supposed to be already dead by his own hand. The fugitive is desperate to escape back to Innsmouth, but his own people want him dead, rather than risk his capture by the FBI, and the potential revelation of the secrets he carries.
The second of the reprinted tales is ‘The Vogue Prince’, which was actually the first to see publication. Again, it has been slightly rewritten to take into account the fact that readers will have now read the previous two tales. Nick Nightmare has a reputation as the go-to guy for the weird cases—the ones no one else will touch—so it’s no surprise that he’s as likely to be hired by the bad guys as the good. On this occasion, a notorious underworld boss calls him in to deal with a particularly strange death. Nightmare doesn’t turn down the job, as the victim was as close to a friend as he gets. A new player, “The Vogue Prince”, is in town and plans on taking over, but the methods he employs are outside the experience of both the law, and organised crime.
The next reprinted story was actually new to me, as I don’t yet have a copy of ‘Cthulhu’ #4, from Spectre Press (not to be confused with Spectral Press)—a situation I intend to correct soon. Originally published as ‘Nightmare on Mad Gull Island’, it is re-presented here as, ‘Mayhem on Mad Gull Island’. Nick Nightmare receives a call for help from an old friend, one “Sharkbait Bill”, and finds himself travelling by boat to Mad Gull Island, near Buddstown, which has a similar sort of reputation as the nearby Arkham and Innsmouth. Sharks, mutated gulls, the by now all too familiar fish-men and their repellent god soon make him reconsider the wisdom of his mission.
Despite being set in the era of computers and mobile phones, the style of the Nick Nightmare stories is very influenced by the hard-boiled detective tales of the pulp era. In ‘Kiss the Day Goodbye’, one of Nightmare’s favourite pulp authors asks him for help. Another writer is somehow stealing all his ideas—before they’ve even seen print. Not only that, but one of his colleagues is being threatened, because his recent work apparently strays too close to the truth for the comfort of certain interests. It’s a Nick Nightmare story, so you know there’s a lot more to it than simple plagiarism. Nightmare cleverly makes one problem the solution to the other. This one first appeared in a slightly different form in ‘The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 2’.
Next, we get more all-new material, beginning with ‘What Dread Hands and What Dread Feet?’ This is the longest story in the book by a good margin, and it’s also a sort of sequel to ‘Night of the Heroes’—the novel in which Adrian Cole first introduced Nick Nightmare, albeit as a supporting character. Various members of Vengeance Unlimited, and Montifellini and his Magic Bus also make a very welcome reappearance here. The right-hand men of the five big underworld bosses are being murdered, and their corpses left with various body parts missing. I’ll say no more, as I don’t want to spoil it. This was my favourite tale in the book, so far. So much so that I now really want to reread ‘Night of the Heroes’.
If there was any one story I was impatient to read, it was ‘Fire All the Guns at One Time’, which was co-written by Mike Chinn, and guest stars his Damian Paladin character. I was curious, to say the least, as to how they could team up Nick Nightmare, a character set more or less in the present, with Damian Paladin, a character set between the wars. Of course, having read the previous story, I had a pretty good idea how it could be achieved—and I was right. More dimensional travel, courtesy of Oil-Gun Eddy, mechanic supreme, and a trip to Pulp World—the setting of much of ‘Night of the Heroes’—brings them together, in a story that quickly deposed my former favourite from the top spot. Damian Paladin needs help. The villain, a nazi mad scientist, named Wolfgang Rottwanger (no prizes for spotting the inspiration for the villain’s name), has abducted Leigh Oswin, his partner and girlfriend. If Paladin shows his face anywhere near in a rescue attempt, she’ll be killed, so he needs to send someone else. I loved this one. The term “greater than the sum of its parts” comes to mind. It’s worth noting that this is another story that won’t be in the paperback, or ebook editions, when they are published.
‘Hot Little Number From Hell’ introduces us to Ariadne Carnadine, a woman of many hidden depths, in a tale which ties in another element of one of Adrian Cole’s earlier tales. Ms Carnadine’s liability of a brother has gone in search of a very ancient and dangerous artifact—‘The Chaos Blade’. Having already met a woman, Leigh Oswin, who is better in a gunfight than he is, Nightmare now meets one who is better in any kind of fight than he is. I really hope we get to see more of Ms Carnadine…
…and my wishes are granted in the very next story. An adversary from Nick Nightmare’s past, one he already had good reason to hate, is back. Allied with the power behind most of Nightmare’s problems, he has a particularly nasty fate in store for Ariadne Carnadine.
This signed, limited edition (200 copies) hardcover is rounded out by an appendix, which features one last exclusive story: a reprint of ‘The Chaos Blade’, originally published in ‘Worlds of Cthulhu’, edited by Robert M. Price. It has a new opening, and is slightly reworked—as are all the reprints in the book—to make it into a story retold by Nick Nightmare, expanding on his conversation with Luke Phillips, and explaining why Phillips refused to take on the job that was passed on to Nightmare in ‘Hot Little Number From Hell’.
I’ve come across a few occult detectives of the “hard-boiled” persuasion in recent years, but I think Adrian Cole has done a better job than most in mixing the tough private dick and weird fiction genres. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for Nick Nightmare next. After all, with reality-hopping friends like Montifellini and his Magic Bus, the possibilities are endless.
There will be paperback and ebook editions sometime in 2015, but they won’t include the three aforementioned exclusive stories.